The subject of terrorism has a stranglehold on western society. Every day we watch and read about groups like ISIS wreaking havoc with horrifying acts of torture, degradation, and murder; while using religion as their justifying crutch. We see it with governmental powers as well; states that occupy and attack what doesn’t belong to them, citing their “God-given right.” What we fail to recognize in the midst of all this is the terrorism happening right here at home. Evangelical churches and organizations that campaign against the rights of others seek the same ends through different means. While innocent villagers, farmers, and captives are the victims of terrorism abroad, innocent LGBTQ+ people are the victims of terrorism right here within our own borders. What’s more, those same organizations send money and support to victimize the sexual and gender minorities in other countries as well. Hiding behind religious freedom, we see through ISIS … but hiding behind that same freedom, terrorism moves along unfettered in the west.
Terrorism – The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
Violence – Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. 1.1 Strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force: ‘the violence of her own feelings.’
Intimidation – The act of frightening or threatening somebody so that they will do what you want. (oxforddictionaries.com)
Groups like the American Family Association, Focus On The Family, and the thousands of anti-equality churches are, by definition, terrorist organizations; yet nobody is talking about it. We talk about bigotry and ignorance, about close-mindedness, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled many of those organizations as “Hate Groups,” but we tiptoe around calling them what they really are. They use strength of emotion to drive their hate, and hide behind political protection of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” They hold morality hostage and drive their followers to do heinous things against LGBTQ+ people. They give money to anti-gay bills in other countries. They sign petitions to stop positive educational initiatives. They protest in front of court houses to deny equal rights. They are bent on committing cultural genocide against those whose views and values differ from their own. They are so much worse than mere hate groups. Churches and organizations that actively campaign against social equality epitomize the very definition of terrorism.
Why aren’t we talking about this? Because we are afraid to. We have bought into two mantras: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” and “we have to respect the beliefs of others.” The problem is that an opinion that’s inherently harmful to both those it’s directed at and those who hold it, must not go unaddressed – and beliefs are only worthy of respect if they stand for the good of humanity. Respecting beliefs because they are beliefs puts us in serious moral trouble, when it comes to the belief that a gay man deserves eternity in a lake of fire just for living honestly. We face an even greater moral dilemma when it comes to the terrorism we are all too familiar with. I know many people who say “we have to respect the beliefs of others,” but not one of them respects Sharia Law. What about the ISIS militants who believe it’s morally correct to throw gay men from rooftops? What about the Ugandan lawmakers who believe God wants them to throw a man in jail for 10 years just for being gay … and what about your neighbour who feels that God has called him/her to donate money to an organization that supports the Ugandan government in that decision? My guess is that you don’t respect the beliefs of the Ugandan lawmakers, but you will make excuses for your friend. The trouble is that while one seeks to commit the atrocity, the other seeks to fund it. They seek the same ends through different means. Their beliefs are exactly identical, and you face a moral conundrum when you show respect for an immoral belief; regardless of who holds it.
If you disagree or are uncomfortable with equating home-grown anti-equality groups with ISIS, I understand. We have been conditioned to see terrorists as an evil ‘other.’ We kill for freedom, they kill to oppress. What we need to do is ask ourselves ‘what’s the difference?’ What’s the difference between ISIS throwing gay men from rooftops and a church petitioning to stop equality education in our schools? Sure, one is extremely physically violent, but they are both acts of terrorism. They both breed fear and a reluctance to speak out. They both keep LGBTQ+ youth in the closet, and in doing so, cause suicide. They both encourage oppression. They both foster a culture in which difference is met with animosity. They both aim to impose their own social and legal standard based on religious belief and misinformation. Look back up to the definitions of terrorism, violence, and intimidation. Everything fits.
We have to stop handling hate with kid gloves. I know the word “terrorist” conjures a very specific image for us, but we have to realize that terrorism takes many forms. Terrorism uses violence and intimidation to achieve political and ideological aims. This applies as much to those who wish to impose the Islamic state as it does to those who want to use fear tactics and fund violence in the name of Jesus. What’s the difference between taking an innocent life and creating a culture in which that life is defined as an abomination worthy of God’s wrath?
No more excuses. No-one is entitled to act on the disastrous ‘opinion’ that others deserve to die, and beliefs allowing for that outcome are NOT deserving of respect. The active anti-equality campaigning of evangelical groups and churches IS terrorism. If you were forced to look at the brutalized bodies, the carnage of mass beatings and shootings, the horror in the faces of the victims before they die, the pain in the lives of those who can’t come out, the struggle of those who go well into adulthood before accepting who they are … you would see that clearly. We all would. If you had to live it … alone and afraid of what would happen if your secret was found out … you would see it clearly. We all would. Terrorism keeps its victims in line out of fear. We easily identify it elsewhere, so again ask yourself “what’s the difference?”
We owe it to those we’ve lost to call this what it is. It’s terrorism. To call it by any other name is not good enough.